(623 B.C. – 543 B.C.)
Siddhartha was very kind to animals. Often he preferred to play alone rather than join his friends in cruel games. One day, he was out in the woods with his cousin, Devadatta, who shot a bird flying over-head. The bird fell down. Siddhartha ran to it first and gently pulled the arrow out. He wrapped the wound with cool leaves to stop the blood and softly patted its body. Devadatta said that the bird belonged to him. “It is mine. I shot it, ” he said. “If the bird had died, it would probably belong to the shooter; but as long as it is still alive, it naturally belongs to the saver,” said Siddhartha.
They finally decided to go to a court of wise men to settle the matter. The court decided that a life belongs to the one who saves it, and not the one who tries to destroy it. So, Siddhartha had the right to take the bird. Devadatta was very angry. From that day, Prince Devadatta began to hate Prince Siddhartha and intended secretly to plot against him. Siddhartha’s compassion and contemplative nature greatly disturbed the King who often pondered over the prophecy of the wise men. He decided to make absolutely certain that his son did not see the four Special Signs that would one day make him give up his royal pleasures.
King Suddhodana therefore ordered that the Prince should be surrounded only the happy and beautiful aspects of life. Old and sick people were kept out of his sight. Death was not mentioned. Three palaces were built for the three seasons of the year, the hot season, the rainy season, and the cool months of the winter. Young attendants served him. In these surroundings, the Prince grew up to be a young man of great strength and beauty.
He was now of an age to marry. His father, the King, sent messages to neighboring kingdoms for proposals of marriage for Siddhartha. The messengers returned with the reply that although he was handsome and rich, the Prince was not a warrior and the neighboring kings did not want to marry their daughters to a coward. When the King heard this, he was very upset. But Siddhartha said that he would prove his skills in any competition, including archery.
Siddhartha easily won every contest that was held. Now that he had proved his skills in the arts of war, his father held a banquet to choose a bride for him, to which the neighboring kings gladly sent their daughters. To everyone’s surprise, Siddhartha chose beautiful Yasodhara, the daughter of King Suppabuddha. Her father happily gave her marriage to the gallant Prince. They lived in great splendor in a new palace surrounded by everything delightful and pleasant.
As time went by, the palace with all its luxuries and amusements made Siddhartha bored and restless. He had always wanted to know what the life of the people, other than that of the sons of kings and their high officials, was like. Unable to refuse the persistent demand of the Prince to travel outside the palace, King Suddhodana finally consented. He ordered that, on the day of the Prince’s outing, every house must be cleaned and decorated with flags and flowers. Along the way no one was allowed to be seen working, and the elderly, the sick, and the ascetics had to stay home until the carriage of the Prince had passed.
On his first journey, the Prince and Chandaka, his personal charioteer, saw a frail-looking man who was bent over with age. Siddhartha, shocked by the sight, asked Chandaka about the old man and discovered that old age was a part of the human condition. The Prince was so upset that he asked to be taken back to the palace.
During his second outing, Siddhartha encountered a man who was extremely sick. The Prince again looked to Chandaka for answers. When Chandaka explained that all people fall ill at some point in their lives, the Prince became deeply troubled. Unable to continue onward, the Prince returned to the palace with a heavy heart.
The third time they went driving in the chariot, Siddhartha and Chandaka came upon a funeral procession. The Prince watched as grief-stricken relatives carried a lifeless body through the streets. Some mourners wept softly while others openly wailed in suffering. Distressed by the spectacle, the Prince wished to know why people had to die. Chandaka explained that no one could escape death and everything that is born must one day die. Siddhartha then contemplated all that he had seen, and lamented the realization that life was impermanent.
On their way back, they encountered an ascetic wearing a yellow robe and whose head was shaved. His calm and peaceful appearance impressed the Prince. Chandaka explained that this was a Sage – one who had given up home and family to seek the Way to liberation from the suffering of old age, illness, and death. After Siddhartha heard these words, his heart filled with joy and his mind gave rise to the thought of taking up the life of a wandering ascetic.
Siddhartha had now seen the four Special Signs which would change his life as predicted by the sages and wise men at his birth. His father noticed the change in him and was deeply grieved that all the precaution he had taken had failed to protect his son. However, when a son was born to Princess Yasodhara, the King was overjoyed and held a grand feast to celebrate the birth of the grandchild. He hoped that Siddhartha would not leave his wife and baby now.